Professional Practice for Architects and Project Managers by David Chappell

Professional Practice for Architects and Project Managers

David Chappell



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The idea for this book came from several people who had been unfortunate enough to hear me speak at one of the lectures I used to give up and down England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

I have written a great many books on construction industry topics (70 at the last count): books about the popular forms of contract, about the kinds of letters architects and contractors might write, about architectural, practical, and legal matters. My aim was to make most of the books as simple as possible and some people have been kind enough to say that my books are relatively easy and helpful, if not actually enjoyable, to read. It is easy to make a complex subject even more complicated and we all see this every day. The trick is to make a complex subject simple. This takes time but it is rewarding.

The construction industry and its associated disciplines are afflicted by what seems to be a modern disease: the inability to use one word if three words can be found to say the same thing. Even worse is the desire to invent new terminology, so that many of us no longer understand what we used to understand perfectly before new phraseology was used to explain it to us. Phrases like ‘strategic outcomes’, ‘soft landings’, and the like are not helpful, neither is the current obsession with delving into activities so as to break them down into many sub‐activities and then explaining how each of these sub‐activities should be accomplished. This kind of thing has been going on since I was a young architect. We used to joke and say that we would all be soon following the mandatory six steps in sharpening a pencil. I hope none of my books have ever ventured into this territory and I am not very good at it anyway. However, my previous books do quote contract clause numbers, legal cases, and Acts of Parliament in considerable quantities.

What this book tries to do is to concentrate on the principles underlying what construction professionals, principally architects, do. There are no references to legal cases, no clause numbers, and minimal reference to Acts of Parliament. I try to avoid legal jargon and explain the principles as simply as possible with the help of any anecdotes which spring to mind. Hopefully, long after my other books are out of date, this book will still be relevant to professional practice in the construction context.

It is wholly reasonable to question why I think I am qualified to give this kind of advice. That is an awkward question. The main reason is because enough architects have told me so when I have given what seemed like straightforward advice. All I can do is to set out a brief career history.

I spent the first 20 years practising as an architect with four local authorities and two private practices. In the last of these, I was briefly a partner until the practice fell on hard times and my partner did an overnight disappearing act with the cheque book and a company car, leaving me to sort out the mess. I then spent time as contract administrator for a building contractor following by a few years lecturing in a college of building. Since 1989, I have practised as a contracts consultant and adjudicator, beginning by working for a company and then for the last 26 years as director of my own companies. During this time, I frequently lectured to constructional professionals, contractors, sub‐contractors, and Part III architecture students and acted as an adjudicator. I have been a specialist advisor to the Royal Institute of British Architects since 1995, answering questions from thousands of architects on the Information Line service and perform the same service for the Royal Society of Ulster Architects. I was Senior Research Fellow and Professor of Architectural Practice and Management Research at the Queens University Belfast on a part‐time basis and Visiting Professor of Practice Management and Law at the University of Central England in Birmingham. Those are the facts. It is not for me to say whether they qualify me to give advice, but that is what I have been doing for the last 30 years.

The book is divided into short pieces which reflect some general issues then moves on to specifics in regard to the progress of projects.

Contractors and sub‐contractors are treated as corporate bodies (i.e. limited companies) and referred to as ‘it’.

I must express my thanks to my long‐standing friend Michael R Jones Dip Arch RIBA, who kindly reviewed parts of the book in draft and gave me the benefit of his long experience.

Particular thanks are due to my one‐time client and subsequently friend Richard Dunkley RIBA, who has read and commented (often at length) upon each of the topics covered by this book. He has generously given me the benefit of his extensive knowledge and experience and I could not have written this book without him. His comments have been invaluable, but more valuable than his comments have been his constant encouragement and fund of anecdotes.

David Chappell

Wakefield, September 2019


Architects Registration Board
Building Information Modelling
Construction Industry Council
Institution of Civil Engineers
Joint Contracts Tribunal
New Engineering Contract
Royal Institute of British Architects
Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors

Section I
This and That

Professional Standards

Codes of Conduct

Every construction professional will have undergone an intense period of training in his or her chosen profession. After academic or theoretic qualification come professional practice and final qualification, with most professionals joining the appropriate professional institutes. These institutes lay down codes of conduct and if it is shown that the professional in question has failed to comply with the code there will often be some kind of sanction.

Architects are Unusual

Architects are unusual because unless they are registered with the statutory body (Architects Registration Board, ARB) they cannot call themselves architects. Anyone calling him‐ or herself an architect in the course of business (except naval or golf course architects) and not registered is liable to be fined by the courts. It is not the function which is protected by statute but the name. Anyone, qualified or not, can carry out work usually associated with an architect just so long as they do not call themselves an architect. Many people, including me, think that is a ludicrous situation.

An unqualified person can adopt the rather grand title of ‘architectural consultant’ without a problem. Many clients seeing that title would assume that the person in question was at least an architect and possibly rather better than that. The sorry fact is that such people are not governed by any professional code as their clients sometimes discover to their cost. A client receiving a poor quality of service from an unqualified so‐called professional will have no professional institute interested in listening to their complaints. Spare a thought then for architects, who have two such bodies: one set up by statute where membership is compulsory and one set up by the profession (RIBA) where membership is not compulsory but generally expected.

What You Say You Are

In case I have been guilty of putting ideas into certain heads, it is worth pointing out that the courts will treat you in accordance with the profession that you profess. Some years ago, a man appeared in court accused of negligence. He had worked as a draftsman in a ball‐bearing factory, but told his clients that he was an architect. The house he designed for them suffered severe defects and started moving down the hill. I used to try to enliven my lectures by musing on whether the problem was that he had incorporated ball bearings into the design. Anyhow, his defence in court was that he was not an architect so could not be expected to properly design the house in every respect (unbelievable). The court made clear that having put himself forward as an architect, that was the standard by which he would be judged. It may not have been a ball‐bearing factory, but the rest is probably accurate, the liability position certainly is correct.

This is relevant for all those architects who put themselves down as quantity surveyors in the building contract if no actual quantity surveyor is appointed. ‘Quantity surveyor’ is not a protected title under statute, but if an architect holds him or herself out as capable of acting as a quantity surveyor, or structural engineer or electrical consultant etc. that is how they will be judged. In case they are feeling smug, it also applies to quantity surveyors, structural engineers etc. who hold themselves out, not as architects because that would be a statutory offence, but as being able to do an architect's job and receive a claim alleging negligence.

Professionals who claim they are able to carry out the duties of another profession must be sure that (i) they can do it and (ii) their professional indemnity insurers are happy with the situation.

How to Appear Confident


‘How do you appear confident?’

I was asked this question by a recently qualified architect. It is a simple question but it has several layers and just one real answer. Presumably the architect wants to appear confident to colleagues, to partners in the firm, and when meeting the client or making presentations. Oh yes, and when dealing with the contractor on site, of course. The one real answer is that an architect will appear confident when he or she is confident as a result of thoroughly understanding what it is that they are doing or talking about. Knowledge and experience give confidence and when someone is knowledgeable, it usually shows in their speech and actions as confidence.

Misplaced Confidence

Of course, an architect can be, and often is, assailed by severe doubts about the matter in hand but still can appear confident. That is a dangerous path to tread. Then again, we have all experienced someone talking what we know to be sheer nonsense with great confidence, like the city architect many years ago who interrupted my lecture to his architectural staff on building contracts by standing up and telling them gravely that ‘the thing to remember is that an architect issuing a certificate is in the position of an arbitrator and immune from actions for negligence’. No one, of course, should remember that because it is quite wrong (see 87: The Architect's Conundrum). His undoubted confidence was misplaced in that instance, but his confidence was the result of years of experience and the fact that others had at some time thought so highly of his abilities that they had made him city architect.

Even if an architect knows everything there is to know about a topic, that same architect may not appear confident. We have all met those extremely knowledgeable people who are yet very diffident and shy about saying anything. In that case, those architects should seek some assertiveness training.

Don't Pretend

But what about the newly qualified architect with some knowledge but little experience, like the architect who asked this question? This brings us to the unspoken nub of the question: ‘How do I appear confident when I am not confident, because I do not have all the necessary knowledge and experience required’? The answer of course is that the young architect should not try to have a confidence that is not actually there. The architect should go on site and listen respectfully to the site agent and the clerk of works, but should not confirm anything until back in the office with the opportunity to seek the advice of a more experienced architect. The ability to listen to another's point of view is usually seen as demonstrating confidence in one's own ability. It is the inexperienced architect, anxious to appear confident, who can be recognised by a desire to press their point of view without reference to others. A newly qualified architect should not be sent out on site alone until that architect has had several trips to different sites in the company of, and with the opportunity of watching and receiving tips from, experienced architects.

A young architect must have been with a thoroughly competent architect many times to see clients and observe the ways in which different architects approach a client before being able and confident to do the same. I stress ‘thoroughly competent’ because it is unfortunate that there are some thoroughly or partially incompetent architects who may radiate supreme confidence while striding purposefully in the wrong direction.

Forget those films where the new recruit solves a problem that all the experienced people have failed to resolve. It does not happen in real life. It is pointless to try for a false confidence to colleagues and partners; they will soon realise the truth.


Employers probably call these ‘benefits’. Essentially, a perk is something an employee gets as a result of being employed at that particular firm. As a rule of thumb, larger companies probably offer most perks. But perks aren't everything and there can be disadvantages. Let's look at some of the most common perks.


Some organisations offer pool cars. Put simply, if you have to visit a site, you can collect a key and use one of the pool cars. Because they are used by all staff, they do not get the loving care which an individual may bestow on his or her own car. They are simply utility models; there to do a job. If you are the kind of person who likes to roll up at site or at an office in an envy‐inducing vehicle, forget pool cars. Murphy's law says that there won't be a car available when you want one and it becomes not a help but another irritant. The pool car idea seems to be on the wane in any event.

What most employees want is a company car. That is the case even though you will get taxed on it. Usually firms allow the employee to choose a car within a particular price band. In the worst case, you may inherit a car bought for a previous employee whose shoes you have been taken on to fill. Some firms allow you to put more money to the purchase to get something which is more like your idea of the kind of car you deserve. That can be complicated and it is not a good idea because it is better if your firm rewards you with a better car because they are keen to keep you. Rewarding yourself is pointless unless you are a sad person. I once knew a man who had a very inflated opinion of himself and a very clear idea of what his status within the organisation should be. Deciding that his office not sufficiently prestigious, he bought a new deep pile carpet, new large desk, vast leather chair, two smaller visitors' chairs, and a couple of arty standard lamps out of his own pocket. He had a better office than the directors, but because of his actual lowly status he just looked silly.

If you don't like the car you are offered, you may be offered the option of a car allowance provided that you always have your car available for business use. The allowance is commonly a lump sum per month plus petrol allowance. The great advantage of this is that, if you leave the firm, you still have your car. If you don't have a car allowance, firms usually offer to pay for petrol used in carrying out your duties. The payment may be based on the mileage you do or on petrol receipts, the latter provided that you only reclaim petrol used on firm's business. That can be a tricky business to assess. Some employees may take advantage of the system to fill up just before taking a motoring holiday and rarely if ever pay for any petrol themselves while the firm's directors or the practice manager may work on the basis that every employee is trying to cheat the firm. Whatever the situation any kind of rough and ready system is apt to leave both parties feeling aggrieved. A checkable mileage payment system is far better.

Provision of car parking is a valuable perk, particularly in town centres. Where parking is not available next to the office, the firm may pay parking costs instead to some employees. More often, only the directors, partners or associates get this perk.

Medical Insurance

This is becoming much more common. Going private means that consultants may call you ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’. Levity aside, and more importantly, you will be able to arrange consultations and non‐urgent operations to suit you. There are some drawbacks.

  • Medical insurance will usually exclude all existing conditions and anything remotely connected to previous conditions. Therefore, if you have had any chest investigations, treatment or surgery, you might find that all future chest conditions are excluded.
  • Normally, you will require a referral from your GP.
  • Although getting an appointment with a consultant will usually be much quicker than if you went through the NHS, your appointment may be in the evening.
  • If you are admitted for an operation, there may not be the numbers of consultants, registrars, and doctors available at night that you would find in an NHS hospital.
  • In the case of some small private hospitals, there may be nurses but only one doctor on duty at night time.
  • Serious operations are thought to be best done in an NHS hospital or one of the larger private hospitals because of the availability of trained staff and up‐to‐date equipment.
  • If you are admitted to an NHS hospital for some reason, it may not be possible for them to access information about procedures carried out privately. All private treatments will be notified to your GP and put on the surgery computer system. Because this is linked to the NHS system any NHS hospital can access it, but there is unlikely to be the same detailed reports as with the NHS.


Many firms will provide loans to employees for various purposes, usually on an interest‐free or low‐interest basis. Commonly a loan will be to assist with the purchase of a car, but loans for other reasons have been known. Complications may occur when the employee leaves the firm. It pays to read the small print in detail. Sometimes the employee is faced with paying back all the loan prior to departure. At best, the employee will move to a loan with a commercial interest rate.



The paint representative had secured a meeting with a very senior architect in a local authority. This was a breakthrough and the rep was nervous as he entered the architect's first‐floor office. He wasted no time in asking if the architect would be prepared to include the name of his firm in the council's specifications as one of the approved paint suppliers. The architect smiled and led the rep to the window. He pointed to a nice shiny bright car in the car park. ‘XXX gave me that’, he said. ‘Can you do any better’?

It is rare that one encounters from architects or others such upfront demands for gifts. That kind of thing is commonly referred to as ‘nosebags’ for obvious reasons. Sadly, there are many individuals happy to take bribes (to give the real name) for favours. The episode I recount above was given to me by the rep involved. It happened many years ago and I cannot vouch for its truth, but you can see why it stuck in my mind, especially since some years later I met the architect involved, who bragged to me that all the furniture at his home had been ‘donated’ by grateful reps after he had specified their products.

This kind of thing is plainly and simply corruption and no architect or other professional should get involved in it. Even if a person is not worried, on ethical grounds, about the occasional nosebag, I should make clear that it is a criminal offence.


An element of corruption is secrecy. Therefore, if the contractor delivers an expensive piece of the latest electronic equipment quietly to your home and you accept it, you are both guilty of corruption. The fact that you have not repaid the favour is of no consequence. The implication is present that you will be likely to favour the contractor in the future.

It used to be the custom for contractors and suppliers to give presents to architects at Christmas. One used to come across two cars side by side in the office car park with a crate of something alcoholic being hastily transferred from one boot to the other. Certain quantity surveyors were entertained to long expensive lunches by the contractor when they went out all day doing a valuation. In the offices of some construction professionals a list was kept indicating the quality and ‘length’ of nosebag on offer from respective reps.

What to Do

The signs are that this kind of thing has dropped off, but not entirely disappeared, in recent years. The basic rule is that all gifts should be returned to the sender with a brief note of appreciation for the thought. If you wish to acquire a reputation for complete integrity, and you should, refuse all gifts in whatever form they take. There is probably very little chance that you will be corrupted by accepting a diary or calendar, but be careful. In particular, do not accept invitations to have lunch with the contractor or suppliers. It may be difficult to refuse if you are at a site meeting and the contractor suddenly produces a tray of drinks and sandwiches, but there is probably safety in numbers on this occasion. Avoid those cosy little lunches in which you are on a one‐to‐one basis with a supplier. It may be perfectly innocent on your part, but the fact that you have accepted hospitality may influence you in the future when you are considering what product to specify. That, of course, is just what the supplier intends. It is blind to pretend that the supplier is wining and dining you purely out of good nature. There is nothing wrong with having contractors or suppliers as friends, but in such circumstances you must take extra care that your conduct is above reproach. It is not so much what you do as what you are perceived to do which is important. Do not get involved in anything, even something that may be entirely innocent, if it can be perceived as a nosebag.


Occasionally a contractor or supplier may offer you an ‘all expenses paid’ trip to the other end of the country or overseas to see a new development. There may, indeed, be a legitimate advantage to be gained on behalf of the client if you accept. However, you accept at your peril. In such a case the correct procedure is to declare the offer immediately to your client. Let him decide. If he agrees that you should go and, better still, decides to go with you, there is little chance that you could be accused of corruption because everything is out in the open. It must be emphasised, however, that it is not a good policy to accept even in these circumstances and you should point this out to your client.

Do Not Bribe

It may be accepted that you will occasionally take the client out to lunch. Your motives are, of course, exactly the same as those of the contractor and supplier: you are hoping for further work. Even here, you must take care. If the client is a large public body, for example a local authority, it is not acceptable that you give any favours to the officers of that authority. Indeed, you ought to find that they will not accept them. In the case of a small private client, the situation is different and, provided that you direct your lunch invitation to the client himself and not to his agents or employees, there should be no suggestion of corruption.

The golden rule is not to give or receive gifts of any kind. If you must break this rule, give sparingly to your client, not to his employees. If you need some tarmac on your drive, ask a contractor who is not engaged on one of your firm's contracts to do it and pay in full. Remember that many a good career has been blighted by accepting or giving gifts. There is no such thing as a free lunch.


Although entitled ‘Design’, relax, this section is not a treatise on design theory, but about one or two points which relate to design management. There are numerous theories of design. Every architect has his or her own and you are entitled to have yours, but do not inflict it upon your client, who will be unlikely to understand. In other words, you should obviously design the building in the way which you consider is best, but do not make the mistake of thinking that you can convince your client of the worth of your design by trying to explain some of the more abstruse aspects of design theory, particularly if you are fond of using the kind of descriptive words beloved of some architects but incomprehensible to most clients – you know what I mean. In 99 cases out of a 100, your client is simply interested in the basics, i.e. Will it keep out the rain? Will it be warm enough? Will it function well overall? Will it look good? etc. Provided that you cater (as you should) for all these points, your client should be satisfied.

Usually, you will produce several embryonic schemes before you eventually produce one which satisfies you. It may be that you finish with two schemes which answer the problems in different ways, but each adequately. Only in rare instances should you present both schemes to your client. The client will often find it difficult enough to understand and discuss one scheme. If you present two, it will be far more than doubly difficult. It is your job to present the best possible scheme to your client, one on which you can advise acceptance. Any differences in schemes should be a matter of detail at this stage; the kind of detail which you should have resolved yourself before showing the client your proposals.

The correct point at which to resolve the kind of major decisions which could give rise to totally different schemes is at feasibility stage, when you are justified, indeed you are required, to present the principal options to the client for decision. But at that early stage, you will be directing the client's attention to a straight choice of options with clearly defined consequences. Clients should be completely involved at every stage of design. Their participation generates understanding and acceptance of responsibility for decisions as the design evolves in logical stages.

If you present your client with two totally different schemes after feasibility stage, it can mean that you have not put all the important options before your client at the right time.

When you present your design to your client, you should present a report with it. By all means make an oral presentation at the same time, but a written report enables your client to study what you have to say at leisure. It may not be necessary to include a report with each successive stage of the design, only you can decide that, but if you are dealing with a large scheme, a formal report at each stage may be advisable, if only to keep a record of the progress of the design as it becomes ever more detailed (see 45: Design Development).